Jim Shotwell joins Jesus in Heaven’s press box

Published 4:42 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2023

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The “Voice of the Bears” can now be heard among the angels.

James “Jim” F. Shotwell, Jr. passed away last week, just a shade over one month shy of his 81st birthday. Jim was a good friend and a longtime supporter of this newspaper and the work we do. I drew much inspiration from Jim, based simply on how he lived his life, his love of family and community, and what he gave back to our little corner of the world.

Jim wore many hats…husband, dad, grandpa, brother, uncle, neighbor, friend, church leader, and dedicated employee. But of them all, he is perhaps best known as the man with the booming voice in the press box at high school football games in Hertford County….first at the old Murfreesboro High School and later at Hertford County High School. All totaled, he dedicated about 40 years of his life behind the microphone.

Shotwell began his announcing career like most of us: as a fan. He patterned his announcing style on the famed NC State PA announcer C.A. Dillon, who was the voice of Wolfpack basketball at Reynolds Coliseum and football at Carter-Finley Stadium for over 50 years.

“I always liked his intro because it was direct, polite, and it sounded halfway decent,” Shotwell said in an October, 2019 interview with Gene Motley, then the sports editor for this newspaper.

I never sat in the press box while covering high school football games, rather choosing to walk the sidelines. My eagle eyes failed me on more than one occasion, but I could always rely on Jim’s short description of the plays, to include the player’s name and jersey number. And it didn’t matter the color of the jersey….Jim “called” the game just like any good announcer should, giving out info and praise for opposing teams as well.

He never wanted to mispronounce a name, even if it meant coming down from the press box in a driving rainstorm and asking a visiting coach for assistance just to make certain he stated a name correctly.

“He said if there was a kid there that dressed out and made the play on the field, then they deserved to have their name called, and he did his best to make sure of it,” said Gattis Hodges, who for years did Bears football play-by-play on the radio.

Jim and I also shared a love for NC State athletics. When we bumped into one another at the grocery store or at some sort of non-athletic event, we would dissect, bisect and otherwise play the role of an armchair quarterback by offering our opinions on what went right during a Wolfpack win or what backfired in a loss.

Jim was a regular reader of this newspaper and would often call to discuss local politics, or to tell me “so-and-so” had a hole in one on the golf course.

He also loved to share stories with me. I remember one in particular. It was in March of 2015, not long after the death of legendary UNC basketball coach Dean Smith. There was a news story…one of many…following his death about coach Smith’s enormous generosity. In his will, Smith left instructions to mail a check in the amount of $200 to every letter winner who played for him during his 36 seasons at the helm of the Tar Heels basketball program.

Like many, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of coach Smith. Jim called me about coach Smith’s final gesture. However, I also learned from Jim that Dean Smith wasn’t the first ACC basketball coach to perform such an act of love for his former players. He instructed me to do a bit of research on the legendary Everett Case, who coached for 18 seasons at NC State.

Coach Case passed away in 1965. I learned, through Jim’s insistence, that Case left two-thirds of his money to his sister. The rest – a total of $69,525 – was split into 103 equal shares and given to a list of former NC State basketball players that coach Case hand selected.

Typical Jim Shotwell….he wasn’t going to let coach Smith “one-up” coach Case.

Within the community, Jim Shotwell was active with the local Jaycees and was an active member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

He also among the many local men and women who volunteered every year to stage the Roanoke-Chowan Pork Festival in Murfreesboro. That event raised money for Jefcoat Museum.

There, Jim’s job was of critical importance. Everyone, at least those of us who enjoy a plate of Eastern ‘Carolina style pork barbecue, knows that such a meal isn’t complete without properly prepared hushpuppies. Jim was the master of those tiny morsels of golden fried cornmeal. He manned the cooker, using a hand-cranked device that slowly dropped a small portion of cornmeal into a piping hot vat of grease. He would slightly turn that device after each crank in order to obtain the perfect size hushpuppy. I could make a meal alone off that mouth-watering cornbread.

Jim also proudly served our nation as a member of the military. Shortly after graduating from NC State, Jim volunteered for the US Army, joining the famed 82nd Airborne Division.

Afterwards, he settled down in Murfreesboro and worked with Union Camp Paper Company in Franklin, VA. If he wasn’t at work…or at a football game…or on the golf course or a softball field….or enjoying time with his family, one could find Jim hunting for quail, joined by the beautiful English Setters that he raised and trained.

A celebration of Jim’s life will be held later this month at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ahoskie. Donations in Jim’s honor may be made to PAWS of Hertford County at PO Box 153, Murfreesboro, NC 27855 or a local youth sports organization of your choosing.

And if you step outside on a quiet, still night and listen, you just might hear these words from the heavens: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Bear Stadium, we’re pleased to have you with us tonight. We ask you to stand and remove your hats for the playing of our National Anthem.”

Rest in peace my friend.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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